What to do about Somalia

Beats hell out of me.  First, it’s not clear that there really is a Somalia — the CIA World Factbook identifies the Republic of Somaliland and a self-declared autonomous state of Puntland as making strides towards legitimate, representative government.  New states, in other words.

Second, the only reasons most Americans care at all about Somalia, other than those with relatives in the area, are 1) pirates, and 2) terrorists.  Pirates are the current news filler nowadays, so lets look at terrorists.

As former FBI manager Ali Soufan explained in an article in the Wall St. J. last week, there are groups in Somalia whose leaders had received some level of training by al-Qa’ida.  Presumably that training ended more than seven years ago, so any success these groups have achieved recently have been through their own efforts.

The important question is what we do next. Soufan engages in the usual recipe that is notable for not having worked anywhere on the surface of the planet:

A comprehensive international diplomatic push to stabilize Somalia is crucial. In the meantime, the U.S. has to put in place a regional strategy that encompasses diplomatic, economic, intelligence, law-enforcement and military initiatives aimed at weakening the terrorists and enhancing living conditions for civilians.

The plan may include covert actions against al Shabab leaders and camps; apprehension and prosecution of wanted operatives; increasing aid to the president and his allies if they are determined to be trustworthy; increasing aid to Kenya to help it better police its borders; and an effort to bring neighboring Eritrea and Ethiopia on board.

Tom Barnett is ready to unleash AFRICOM on the territory:

Think AFRICOM won’t be important over the long haul?

Think again.

Unfortunately, Tom doesn’t explain what AFRICOM is going to do.  Put Somalia back together?  That would solve the problem, if only we knew how to do it.  The last group that tried, the Ethiopians, are scurrying back across the border even as we speak.

Throw a ton of money at the place?  Can you spell “corruption”?

It’s tempting to think that we should just put a strongman in control — there were no pirates or terrorists in Iraq under Saddam — but this is a form of mental weakness on our part.  Most caudillos quickly become corrupt, leaving their countries in even worse shape.  What’s important is that the people of that region evolve the type of government(s) that will suit them, and it’s not our job to try to do it for them.

All I can think of is that we work with the proto-states of Somaliland and Puntland however we can.  This won’t be easy, as our experience in much of the Balkans (which are, culturally, vastly closer to us than are Somali societies) indicates.  As for the rest of the country, we need to cooperate with and develop any sources of stability we can find.  It’s worth warning, again, that this is a very difficult game to play because once money starts to flow, jockeying for support by folks claiming to represent this or that constituency will be frenetic.  [Check out Tom Wolfe’s classic Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers for a description of how this works, and that in our own country.]

So we need to develop some level of expertise in dealing with the region, and perhaps that’s what Tom means when he invokes AFRICOM, which bills itself as “a different kind of command,” although still a command of the Department of Defense headed by a four-star general.  What we must avoid at all costs, though, is another large-scale occupation of a foreign country in an attempt to remake it into whatever image we think is appropriate.

And it would also help if we quit acting scared to death of a few criminals with a religious veneer ensconced in a poverty-ridden “country” some 8,000 miles away.  Terrorists are going to strike us again — there’s no way to prevent it — but in the meantime, just to put the threat into perspective, we lose more than 3,000 people to traffic accidents and 1,500 to homicides every month.

If you legitimately want to scare yourself, you might pick a real threat, like the one Fabius Maximus identifies in his blog today.

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